IMO: Vivaldi’s Winter, The Four Seasons

Except for a small lamp, I am sitting in the dark and face the computer screen. It is four in the morning. I’m grading college English composition papers where students compared and contrasted Ulysses S. Grant to Robert E. Lee. After the fifteenth one, my mind wandered and entered that zone where it splits–one side hears music while the other grades. I lose myself. On Pandora, Vivaldi’s “Winter” from Four Seasons begins.

It occurred to me that it has been twenty years since I last listened to Vivaldi’s “Winter.” It was four in the morning. I lived in the wasteland of Illinois during winter. Icy, bitter below-zero cold. The stars flickered, the air crackled, and the sun rose and changed the black into a powder blue sky. The sun teased, but the hope of warmth would not come that day.

I drove ninety minutes from my hometown to Illinois State University. My teenage kids still slept. They would get themselves up and eat breakfast and cross the street to school without my orchestration. Excited was I to be in college, and I fell in love with academia. I was in my thirties at the time and amazed by how little I knew about everything–history, literature, classical music, art, architecture, foreign languages, philosophy, and geography. I was starving and ate it up.

There is nothing to look at during the winter in central Illinois. The corn fields have been harvested. The expanse and flatness and dingy colors combined with the cold temperatures–well, that’s why I live in Arizona now. Two decades ago, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played in the car. The first cup of coffee had worn off, and I was in that lull where one part of me heard the music while another part drove.

How wonderful then, today at four in the morning, that a time warp occurred. “Winter” by Vivaldi began on Pandora and triggered that long ride to campus. I was that non-traditional student traveling distances to learn. This morning, I am the instructor on the other side of the desk, that is, the other side of the computer who grades the paper I once wrote. Tied by Vivaldi, the music became a mirror, and I sat on both sides and said “Hello.”

IMO: Life Cycles

I was surrounded. It was creepy.
Graduating students “bombed” my room.

Very few jobs offer a conclusive beginning, middle, and end to the year. The rhythm of the academic calendar is psychologically beneficial, and if I hadn’t made a career within it, I would have jumped off the plank a long time ago. Let me explain by showing you an excerpt by me right before a holiday break (Here’s the whole post if you missed it) :

“. . . I never wanted to be a high school teacher. I wanted to be a college teacher. I’m tired that I have to work in the trenches, dealing with obnoxious teenagers, to be politically correct, inspirational, and compassionate to all students every day no matter what inappropriate thing they say or do. I am that sergeant in war movies who answers to officers, some idiotic, some great, always a revolving door, the principals, and superintendents who come and go and meanwhile, my responsibilities compound, the acronyms multiply like rabbits. I can’t believe after 19 years, I have to do this for eight more years before I retire. What’s worse, the classes I created, devoted my heart and soul to were taken away and given to younger teachers. I’m supposed to be a good sport, but I am resentful. I already paid my dues. I feel unappreciated. I am steaming, and the bitterness takes root. Why didn’t my dream come true? My trajectory was the moon. What strange star is this?  And the dark irony in it all? I’m really good at what I do.” 

Today, I reread the words revealing my dour attitude and I’m embarrassed. When you are a teacher, it is like jumping off a high cliff into the riptide. To endure, the veteran teacher learns how to breathe underwater and ride the current. Obviously, in the quote above, the stress was getting to me. Just in the nick of time, a holiday break occurred. Whew!  I could regroup and adjust my attitude.

Most schools in America, especially on the East coast, resume in September after a healthy summer break. Out here in Arizona, we just went back to school. This past week was full of professional meetings, inspirational pre-service gatherings, getting organized, meeting the students, and beginning instruction. For me, a new year has begun. I’m happy to report I’m very excited to begin again. I have hope and ready to inspire and rock and roll. By winter, I’ll start to drag. After the winter break, I’m recharged. Pretty soon it’s spring break, and then after a month, I’m looking ahead at the calendar wishing for summer break at the end of May. In this profession, the pendulum swings back and forth and the force conditions my mood and my worth ethic. Students and teachers wonder if they can make it to the end of the school year. Of course, we can. Faster than we thought. Now the best part comes. Time. To reflect and consider and indulge in the hobbies of my life. The year is over. What’s done is done. Students graduate and move on. When the new year begins, you start with a clean slate. This is the cycle that runs my life.

One of the complaints I had last year was the indignancy I felt for key classes I had worked so hard creating the curriculum and then they were “taken away” and given to others to teach. That’s a problem when you give a lot of emotional sweat and brain cells to a project; you feel a sense of ownership. During times of reflection, I’ve learned I had to get over myself, let go of the ego, or the roots of resentment grow and I risk becoming a bitchy co-worker. My patience and tolerance falter.


Wir werden backen.

Anyway, I changed my situation and it changed my attitude. After securing my endorsement, I’m now the new German teacher. I’m having the best time setting up the best class ever. We have started to speak it and see it and say it and write it. We’re going to make homemade pretzels and have a proper Oktoberfest with kraut and wurst and (root)beer. We’re going to Bavaria in 2020. It’s going to be the best class my students ever had.  Ha!

The cycles of a year. Is yours measured by the seasons? By your job? By your family? By imposing your own cycle?

I opened my classroom and found this note. Lucky, aren’t I?

IMO: Platitudes for Happiness

 Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.  W. Clement Stone.

As a high school teacher, what’s typical of most schools are the inspirational posters hanging on every wall, every door. Something for students to think about as they walk from A to B.  Advice from a sage like Dedication and dreams are powerful combinations. Character is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Don’t give up until you are proud. Prove them wrong. Don’t call it a dream; call it a goal. Do something today that your future self with thank you for….

Wait a minute. I thought happiness was found during the process. It’s the journey, not the destination. After much blood, sweat, and tears for decades, I’m at my destination and still not happy. Life is a struggle at every stage; ultimately, it is a life in motion, shedding one’s skin, in a transition from one stage to another complete with its own set of challenges.  Are you searching for happiness? All those platitudes and lofty goals won’t secure it. Maybe I should aim to be content? Friends say it’s better to be content than happy, but it feels to me to be a disguise for complacency. I’m neither content or happy. That makes me feel like an ingrate. I take my life too seriously. I have issues.

I never wanted to be a high school teacher. I wanted to be a college teacher. I’m tired that I have to work in the trenches, dealing with obnoxious teenagers, to be politically correct, inspirational, and compassionate to all students every day no matter what inappropriate thing they say or do. I am that sergeant in war movies who answers to officers, some idiotic, some great, always a revolving door, the principals, and superintendents who come and go and meanwhile, my responsibilities compound, the acronyms multiply like rabbits. I can’t believe after 18 years, I have to do this for eight more years before I retire. What’s worse, the classes I created, devoted my heart and soul to were taken away and given to younger teachers. I’m supposed to be a good sport, but I am resentful. I already paid my dues. I feel unappreciated. I am steaming, and the bitterness takes root. Why didn’t my dream come true? My trajectory was the moon.
What strange star is this? The dark irony in it all? I’m really good at what I do.

When I reach this irrational, dark, ugly state of being, there are tricks I employ to pull me out of the situational depression. I walk through the hallways and see the sweeties, the great kids who listen, cooperate, want to learn and I focus on their faces and say to myself, “You are the reason I love being a teacher.” They are the talented ones. They are the introverted ones. They are the funny ones who are mischevious with big personalities, and they make me laugh. They are the ones who have giving hearts and optimistic dreams. They are the A+ students who are pegged for greatness, and I can’t wait to hear how all of them turn out. They are the next generation and I have front row seats.

The other night, I was up at 2AM and in a dark mood. Stiff and sore, I couldn’t sleep and I wished I was someone else, somewhere else, and generally feeling sorry for myself. I wished I could feel happiness or contentedness at this stage of my life. That very same morning, one of my stellar students who has a first-rate intellect and wants to become a scientist and solve the riddle of cancer gave me a card.

Ms. Bruchman, I wanted to start off by thanking you for taking the time to write me a teacher recommendation letter. Your support throughout my 4 years of high school has meant a lot to me! If it wasn’t for your belief in me both academically and personally, I wouldn’t be where I am today. You are one of the very special people who has impacted me as a person, and I won’t forget it. Under your influence, I learned and grew so much, especially when it comes to being a leader and speaking front of people! I hope I have made you proud, and I will continue to work hard wherever my future will lead me. Once again, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU so much for everything. Love, Mary.

My Mr. Holland’s Opus moment. An impasse. I am not starting out anymore. I am almost 55, and it’s okay that I’m not in my ambition-driven-make-your-dreams-come-true stage. I feel it finally. I wasn’t “great” in the pursuit of it, I was great because, at my destination, I cared and supported someone else who will surpass my lofty goals by a long shot.That doesn’t mean I’m going to be complacent. I’ve asked the powers that be to let me teach a new class next year which would require a lot of effort and learning and fun on my part. If they let me, I will be energized. If they take it away, I won’t be mad. I will ask for something else.

To be happy, make other people happy.  W. Clement Stone

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